Although there is no disputing the fact that excessive consumption of alcohol can increase your risk of developing heart disease, there is evidence that drinking in moderation can actually improve heart health. It’s important to be aware of this distinction when studying the link between alcohol and heart disease.
Negative Effects of Alcohol on the Heart
In a general sense, heavy drinking compromises your overall health. It is well documented that it damages your liver, which in turn compromises your body’s ability to get rid of toxins, manufacture proteins, metabolize carbs and fats and hundreds of other functions. Once your body stops functioning at optimal levels, everything starts to shut down…including your heart and cardiovascular system.
More specifically, elevated alcohol consumption has been linked to the following:
1. An increased risk of irregular heart beat, called arrhythmia.
2. Higher levels of triglycerides (fat) in the blood.
3. An increased risk of sudden cardiac death and heart failure.
4. Weakening of the heart muscle, known as alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
5. A higher risk of developing high blood pressure, which could lead to heart attack or stroke.
So those are the main things to be concerned with when it comes to alcohol and heart disease. Now, as you’ll see below, there are some real benefits to moderate drinking, and not just red wine as is commonly believed.
Positive Effects of Alcohol on the Heart
The good news is that if you drink moderately, i.e. up to a drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men, then you can actually reap health benefits from alcohol. Let’s take a look at the benefits of a couple of alcoholic beverages a day:
1. Lower incidences of heart attack and stroke.
2. Lower incidences of coronary artery disease and sudden cardiac death.
3. An increase in HDL, or good cholesterol, which helps remove bad LDL cholesterol from the body.
4. Thinning of the blood, which can ease blood pressure and improve flow throughout the body.
5. Decreasing inflammation in the body, which lowers your risk of diseases of all kind.
The benefits above apply to all kinds of alcohol, including beer. However, some evidence points to the fact that red wine, due to antioxidants called polyphenols (one in particular is called resveratrol) can lower LDL, increase HDL, protect the heart, reduce inflammation and fight off cellular damage. So you may reap additional benefits if your drink of choice is red wine.
Alcohol and Heart Disease…What’s the Bottom Line?
It is safe to assume that one or two drinks a day is perfectly fine, and may provide your heart and body with some true benefits. That is not to say that if you currently do not drink you should start right away. You can reap similar benefits from food, exercise, lifestyle changes and other things that do not involve drinking.
It is also safe to assume that drinking heavily is not good for your heart or body. There is definitely a correlation between the number of drinks consumed and the damage done to your health. If you currently drink more than 2 drinks a day, you should certainly try to cut back.
What else can you do to reduce your risk?
So moderate drinking can be beneficial…what else can I do?
Watch your diet – Avoid unhealthy trans fats and hydrogenated oils founf in fast food, margarines and spreads. Limit sugar intake and simple carbohydrates like white bread and rice. Add fruits and vegetables, fiber, complex carbs and Omega 3-rich nuts, seeds and cold water fish.
Start exercising – Regular exercise, both aerobic and anaerobic, offers countless heart health benefits. Try to incorporate both as often as possible, and at least three days a week.
Lead a healthy life – In addition to the link between alcohol and heart disease, there is an even more established smoking link. Try to stop smoking as soon as possible. Also, try to lower your stress levels, as they can affect your blood pressure. Lastly, keep your weight in check. Obesity is one of the main risk factors.
Strike a healthy balance between alcohol and heart disease…always drink in moderation.